Gaudete Sermon 2012
December 16, 2012
For my money the sounds of nature while camping in the spring are some of the most beautiful sounds we can experience. The fire crackles with wood that is still wet on the inside and sizzles as it pours out trying to escape as steam. The birds are each singing their unique and blissfully simple tunes for all to hear and enjoy. You may have a creek or river with water that is flowing fiercely nearby. The animals are coming awake after a long winter’s nap.
Like Superman had his Fortress of Solitude in the blistery cold of the Arctic, I had the various campgrounds in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and a few of the northern lakes in the Minnesota Boundary Waters that I used to go to with my Boy Scout Troop and occasionally with my family. During the hustle and the bustle of the school year I would look forward with anticipation to a monthly weekend trip, or weeklong trips in the summer. My friends and I would spend two or more Scout meetings in preparation. We had to decide who was going to bring what, what was going to be cooked and by whom and who got stuck with KP.
I loved the freedom we had to hike, fish, play cribbage and other cards games or just to sit and relax around the fire while enjoying the stars in their heavenly courses. The sounds of nature providing their comforting siren songs, knowing that everything was going to be alright when I got back home and to school again on Monday.
The wilderness was a great contrast to the sounds of life in the Chicago suburbs. The town had sounds of children playing and enjoying themselves. There were sounds of birds, but not as many as in the wilderness. There were also the sounds of cars speeding down the streets not acknowledging Stop signs and speed limits as more than suggestions. There were trains rolling by and planes making their descents to the town airport.
There were also the soul-destroying sounds of parents screaming profanities at their children. The sounds from a homeless man or woman begging for money outside of the liquor stores. The sounds of prostitutes looking for Johns. There were the joyous sounds of concert bands having concerts in the park and marching band putting on half-time shows. So it goes in the cities. So it goes in the suburbs.
Sounds are an important part of our lives. Some sounds remind us of good times gone past. Others remind us of pain and loss. But today … today I want you to consider the sounds of Advent. Let these sounds comfort you by entering your hearts through your ears. Let Isaiah echo all around you. As Simon and Garfunkel might sing, listen to the Sounds of Advent.
We begin with Sounds of Comfort.
“Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
Isaiah prophesized these words to Jerusalem, that is to ‘her’ the bride of Christ, and also to you. The comfort is that your “warfare is ended and your iniquities are pardoned.” Sin that causes you to fear, doubt and despair before the face of the living God has been removed. Sin that is the source of so much pain in this world has been removed. Sins that cannot trust Jesus and His promises of peace have been removed.
The internal warfare that sin causes inside of you has been removed by the Gospel, by the sweet sound of Comfort that proceed from the mouth of Jesus when He says to you “Child take heart. I have taken on your warfare and your battling with sin into my very incarnate flesh for you. You no longer have to wage war for I have won the victory for you. You are forgiven.”
Just like Jerusalem who first heard these words a few hundred years before she fell in 586bc, we have to take Isaiah’s words from Jesus to His people of comfort by faith. Your forgiveness is taken by faith. Yet your daily experiences tell you otherwise. They tell you that this sweet sounding comfort hasn’t been experienced by you yet. You don’t have a destruction, captivity and return to validate the words of the prophet.
You have the forgiveness, and the promises that ancient Israel had. Your victory is won. Your troubles are over. You have received double forgiveness for the sins that you have committed in this life. The tree of death whose fruit is sin has been removed. The axe in Jesus’ hand has chopped it down and destroyed its roots.
You have received this comfort, in the words of the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed: “not by reason or senses.” Grace is wonderful. There isn’t a one-to-one correlation of Grace to sin, but double Grace for sins. This is pure mercy of God. Endless works and labor will not win this Grace for you. There is no merit needed. You are given double because of God’s Grace Alone. Jesus comes with hands and sides pierced by nails and spear and says, “Take eat,” “Take drink.” “Comfort, comfort my people. You are forgiven”
The second sound is the sound of anticipation.
“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.””
All, or parts, of these words are in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to describe the last prophet before Jesus, His cousin, John the Baptist. John is the voice that prepares the way of the Lord… for the new message of the Gospel.
Martin Luther wrote in his lectures on Isaiah that: “The voice of one crying, that is, a new kind of teaching which should be proclaimed everywhere. In the wilderness. This voice is sent forth in the wilderness both by the preacher himself and by the hearers. By contrast wilderness is placed opposite the teaching of the Law. For like a jail, a wall, and a city, the Law secures and fences us in. The voice of the Gospel, however, is a free wilderness, open to all, public, and unrestrained like a wilderness. There is indeed a limitation about the Law, but the teaching of the Gospel is most free and most unrestrained. Hence all these words are as by contrast set against the teaching of the Law. The voice of one crying in the wilderness. This voice of the Gospel takes the place of the whispering murmur, which teaches the Law in specified localities. This voice, however, has no definite place and teacher. Moses whispers, but the Gospel shouts confidently and most vigorously (p 8).
In summary, Luther is saying that the Gospel is where freedom is. The Law cages you in. It puts boundaries and barriers upon you that control, limit and eventually destroy your faith. The Gospel is free. There is no boundary to it. You cannot stop it because Jesus and His voice of forgiveness in His death echo everywhere. They are for everyone.
It is the Gospel, the sounds of forgiveness in the incarnation that we anticipate celebrating on Christmas morning. This is when we remember that Jesus, God of God from eternity, took on flesh to lower the mountains and raise the valleys in His ministry so that all may be saved. The mountains are those who are puffed up with pride, arrogance and feelings of self-salvation like the Pharisee. The valleys are the beggars, the sinners, and the publicans, who stand before God in all their sinful glory knowing that they cannot save themselves. All are made equal before Jesus who dies so that all may live.
The third and final sound we see in Isaiah today is the sound of the Eternal Word.
“A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
When I was a boy and would camp in the wilderness the sounds of the city would fade away. So too will the sounds of the world. The world preaches death and only death. You get pregnant and don’t want the child? Answer of the world: death to the child. You get old, feeble and don’t contribute enough financially to society and get sick? The answer: death. The rationale is that its cheaper than paying for medication. Have a poor quality of life, whatever that means? The answer: death. Death is all that the world knows and it shouts this sound of despair at the top of its lungs for all to hear.
To some extent the world is correct. Since the fall, all flesh is like grass. Eventually we all will fade and wither, but in Christ we will never die. Jesus made sure of that on the cross. When Jesus died upon that tree of death He made it a new tree of life that whoever eats its fruit shall live. When Jesus rose He defeated death ensuring that those who pass from this vale of tears, pass through death as if like a dream, to awaken with Jesus in paradise of His making. This is Jesus’ promise to you when He baptized you in His blood that was spilt upon that new tree freeing you from the bondage of the city of Law and putting you in the wilderness of the Gospel.
Contrasted with our limited time upon this earth is the Word of God that you hear spoken into your ears that will stand forever. This Word reveals Jesus because Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word of Jesus that says, “you are forgiven” silences all others.
In conclusion, there are so many sounds that surround us on a daily basis. There are so many sounds that disturb us as well as delight us. But in the midst of them all are the sounds of Advent. The voice of Jesus has spoken tender words of comfort, words of anticipation, and words of everlasting life. Absorb the sounds of Advent and live them out! Amen.